The Buddy System | News | Denver | Denver Westword | The Leading Independent News Source in Denver, Colorado

The Buddy System

Leon is late, as usual, and Lloyd is early, as usual, and they both know this about each other, but it seldom changes their estimated times of arrival. This is the way they are, and they seem to like it fine. When the ex-con meets the corporate executive, which is...
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Leon is late, as usual, and Lloyd is early, as usual, and they both know this about each other, but it seldom changes their estimated times of arrival. This is the way they are, and they seem to like it fine.

When the ex-con meets the corporate executive, which is quite often, they collide like a couple of fullbacks, embracing one another with bone-crunching, back-thumping, beer-commercial abrazos.

"Love you, man."
"Love you, too."
Lloyd Lewan has traveled around the world so many times, he knows true friends are as rare as blue diamonds. And the Reverend Leon Kelly has eulogized so many people along the inner-city streets of Denver that he wants his buddy to have no doubts about the way he feels.

Some people stare. A few grin. Lloyd and Leon could care less. They talk awhile, joke around, embrace again and leave. Back to their separate worlds.

Lloyd works on the third floor of a sleek building with tinted windows on the endless strip mall that is Colorado Boulevard. He is board chairman of Lewan & Associates, an office-technologies firm founded in 1972 by his entrepreneur brother, Paul, Lewan's president and CEO. Lloyd handles long-range strategy while Paul tackles the day-to-day operations. Together they have made the multi-million-dollar firm into one of Colorado's thirty top private companies.

Leon works in the historic seventh-floor dinginess of the Colorado Building, overlooking the panhandlers, hotdog vendors and office workers mingling along the 16th Street Mall. He's executive director of Open Door Youth Gang Alternatives and the recipient of at least forty civic awards, including a U.S. Senate Congressional Award, the Jefferson Award for Voluntary Public Service and the Colorado African-American Male Image Award.

Lloyd is a former Marine Corps officer and college professor, the former chief academic officer and executive dean of the Semester at Sea program and current chairman of the Institute for Ship Board Organization. He holds a Ph.D. in complex organizational theory, wrote a book called Women in the Workplace: A Man's Perspective and is writing another, titled Dare to Be a Leader.

Leon is a former drug dealer and an ex-penitentiary inmate. He's an ordained minister of the Maranatha Church of God in Christ, a holder of a Ph.D. from the Family Bible Institute of Denver, a former power forward for a University of Colorado AAU basketball team and an all-time scorer on the Canon City prison basketball team.

Lloyd's desk is big, broad and glossy. His walls are decorated with photos of him with Mikhail Gorbachev, Bill Cosby and Dottie Lamm.

Leon's desk is cluttered with unopened mail, jars of candy and water toys for visiting kids. His walls are plastered with service awards and photos of him with Evander Holyfield, Jesse Jackson and members of the Crips and Bloods. The largest: a portrait of his parents.

Lloyd wears a gray suit, blue-striped shirt and red silk tie. His beard is carefully manicured, his face is etched with character lines, and his eyeglasses are perched perpetually on his forehead. "Don't print my age," he groans. "I hate it when newspapers do that."

Leon is 45. He wears a white Open Door T-shirt, black shorts, white Converse basketball shoes (size fifteen) and a gold crucifix. In a booming, six-foot-five-inch, 256-pound voice that registers somewhere between those of Barry White and Lieutenant Worf, he tells errant children, "I have no problem snatching off your face."

Lloyd is divorced with no children. Leon is also divorced, now remarried, with three biological children, five other kids he raises as his own and a thousand children he takes under his wing.

Lloyd likes biographies of world leaders such as Gandhi and International News on public television. Leon reads the Bible, Sports Illustrated, "anything on gangs" and likes action movies, bowling and table tennis--"definitely not Ping-Pong."

When Lloyd has something to say, which is often, he looks you in the eye, taps your elbow and utters lines like "I can smell bullshit at a hundred yards." When Leon has something to say, which is less often, he does it with a gesture, a glance and a growled "Don't you try me."

They met in 1987 in Lloyd's living room during a male-leadership support meeting, a gathering drawn together to deal with the Crips and Bloods gangs just surfacing in Denver. Two years later, Lloyd joined the board of Leon's Open Door. They have been best friends ever since.

"It trips me out when people find out who he is and who I am," Kelly says. "But the common denominator is kids."

"We're like the Odd Couple," Lloyd adds. "I think you can say that."

Her name is Yolanda, and she wants to see what all the fuss is about over shooting this white powder, so Leon and his partner break out the coke. Yolanda fingers the syringe and takes a hit. Then she gags, twitches, falls to the floor and hits her head on Leon's barbells.

"Oh, shit!"
"Did she OD or what?"
Leon's partner panics and leaves. One thought runs through Leon's head: No way can police find a dead woman in his apartment. Not with his stash. Not with his guns. If this woman dies, he's pitching her into a dumpster.

Yolanda chokes, gasps, convulses. Leon pries open her mouth, jams his fingers inside and grabs hold of her tongue before she swallows it. Yolanda slowly awakens and looks up at Leon with wide eyes and a smile.

"Man. I've never felt anything like that before. Gimme another one."
Leon H. Kelly Jr. was born in 1953, the middle kid between three boys and three girls. His dad was a construction worker and minister who held services a few blocks from home. His mother raised the kids and worked as a presser at a linen company. They all lived in a white and brown house near the end of St. Paul Street. Leon remembers his childhood as one jumble of activity: kids running in and out, kids playing in the street, kids hanging around Fred Lucero's neighborhood market.

When Leon turned fourteen, his family moved to Louisiana, where his father helped his grandfather minister at a local church. There, during the civil rights struggle, Leon learned about hate. "White Only" signs over drinking fountains. Segregated schools.

One summer day Leon's grandfather suffered a stroke. Leon's parents called for an ambulance. None came. They called again. Still no ambulance. Finally a sheriff's deputy arrived and eyed the family Cadillac. "Your car is bigger than mine," the white man said. "What do you expect me to do about this?" Leon's father drove the ailing preacher to the hospital, where he died nearly an hour after that first phone call for help.

Leon's family returned to Denver when he was in his late teens, harder, angrier, distrustful of whites. But Leon channeled his energy into sports and earned a Black Education Program scholarship to the University of Colorado, where he made an AAU basketball team. Away from his family, he drifted.

When he arrived on campus, Leon couldn't stand the smell of beer. By the time he was a senior, after countless keggers, dorm parties and tailgaters, he had climbed the ladder to hard liquor, marijuana, cocaine, whatever.

Selling his first ounce was easy. He told his supplier that a guy from Denver wanted to score. The guy drove up to Boulder, Leon supplied the cocaine, and $600 changed hands. In less than thirty seconds, Leon made more money than some college graduates earned in a week.

The greed set in.
Leon doesn't care how disciplined you are, how well you were raised or how loud your conscience screams. Once that greed takes hold, you change.

He managed to finish his degree in physical education and get a job at a Salvation Army recreation center in Denver. Later he worked as a nightclub bouncer and disc jockey and peddled drugs on the side. By the time he turned 23, Leon had a partner, a Triumph sports car and a penthouse at Brooks Towers. Some weeks he and his partner cleared $6,000 selling to athletes, attorneys, designers--whoever had money. And if someone needed girls for a party, they arranged that, too.

Dealing drugs was like a game--and Leon had the moves. In his mind, there was no way he would get caught.

Violence came with the job. Leon packed three guns on his body, stashed guns in his car, kept guns under the pillows of his couch, saw people beaten and shot. He was still considered good people, but sometimes he had a hand in it himself. If you crossed him, there were consequences.

One time a customer reneged on a debt, so Leon and his partner staked out the junkie's house and rousted him from the bathroom where he had been shooting up. Leon slammed the punk to the floor and pressed a nickel-plated .38 revolver to his temple.

The junkie babbled some excuse.
Leon cocked the pistol.
As the junkie squirmed, Leon pushed down harder and then, for some reason, looked up at his partner.

"Oh, man," Leon thought. "I just blew this guy's head off."
He looked down. The junkie was alive. The bullet had grazed his forehead.

Looking back, Leon sees the shooting as a sign to change his ways. God was telling him to leave that life before it was too late. But all Leon heard was the greed.

On December 13, 1977, he was arrested for using a stolen credit card and charged with a string of armed robberies. He had been busted before--seven times--on charges ranging from drug possession to forgery to driving while intoxicated, but he always got off with limited jail time, fines and probation. He expected the same this time. Before his hearing, he got a job at a recycling plant and cleaned himself up. He took his lunch hour to appear in court, fully expecting to be back at work that afternoon. Instead, Judge Gilbert Alexander gave him five to eight years in prison. Deputies cuffed Leon on the spot and hauled him away.

Prison was hard--and Leon had it easier than most. He was an athlete. He had a street reputation. He dabbled in the drug trade on the inside. But nothing prepared him for the brutality. He remembers walking through a cellblock and noticing a friend looking down from an upper tier.

"Come on up," the friend said. "We're getting some butt."
Leon thought the inmates had bribed a guard, hired a prostitute and smuggled a woman inside, but when he walked into the cell and threw back a curtain, he saw a young man being gang-raped. In that youth's eyes, he saw everything.

Back in his own cell, Leon began to think: "Here I am with a college degree, and I'm with the thieves, rapists and murderers."

What about his family? If his parents became sick or injured, he wouldn't be able to see them. He thought about that a lot. On the outside, even when Leon was at his worst, his parents never knew. Out of respect, he would not do certain things in their presence.

When his parents visited him in prison, Leon said he was sorry, that he never meant to hurt them, that he wanted to change but didn't know how. And he told them he loved them.

His mother looked right at him. "How can you say you love us?" she asked. "How can you say that and put us through all these changes?" And then she cried.

Leon had never seen his mother cry before, and it broke him. He doesn't care how tough you are or how tough you think you are. When you see your mother cry, and cry because of you, it hurts. After that, he quit drugs and his prison clique and began to read Scripture and pray.

In July 1981 a guard called over the loudspeaker: "Prisoner 45474. Report to the control center." When Leon arrived, the guard told him, "Get your stuff. You're leaving." Just like that. He was free.

Leon remembers wandering through Canon City waiting for a bus. No one knew he was out. No one knew he was coming home. He walked for hours, amazed at all the space.

Before he went to prison, before he decided to reform, Leon had hidden a small stash of cocaine. He thought he could sell it and make a few thousand bucks to get back on his feet. Now he stood near the corner of 37th Avenue and St. Paul with the open packet of drugs, smelling the ether and the fine white powder. And it all flooded back: the rush, the penthouse, the nickel-plated .38. The greed.

Maybe this one time, Leon told himself. I'll sell this one ounce and after that I'm through. One time. No more.

Then he thought about his partner, who had been murdered and thrown down a mine shaft, thought about the youth's eyes in the prison cell, thought about his mother's tears, his promises and all the prayers.

It was like a scene from a cartoon. An angel stood on one shoulder and a devil stood on the other: "What's it going to be?"

The drug smelled good.
Real good.
Leon ripped the packet open, emptied the cocaine onto the street and walked away.

The ship hit rocks near the coast of Alexandria, Egypt, and was taking more water than the pumps could handle. Students were worried.

"Are we going to sink?"
Lloyd had traveled around the world more than a dozen times by this point in 1983 and had guided college kids from the festivals of Brazil to the streets of Berlin. He and his crew had navigated some tricky waters, and these were among the trickiest.

The captain and engineer repeatedly asked the Egyptian government to send out tugs, but when the tugs finally arrived, they had trouble towing the 500-foot ocean liner off the rocks. Other ships began sending messages from the harbor: "Good luck."

Lloyd toured the ship, assessed the damage and helped the crew clear the lower decks. While he worked, students gathered around him in life jackets. As he had done so many times before, Lloyd stood before them, confident and level-headed, and calmed them down.

Egyptian tugs eventually guided the ship ashore. While it underwent repairs, Lloyd arranged for the 500 students to spend time in Jerusalem. When they arrived, a newspaper announced: "Bearded Patriarch Leads Children Out of Egypt."

Lloyd was born in Plainfield, New Jersey, the younger of two boys. His father was an accountant and his mother taught elementary school. He describes his childhood as "unremarkable," "middle-class" and "pretty average." Then his mother died of cancer when Lloyd was twelve. His father did the best he could and eventually remarried, but he and Lloyd weren't very close. Lloyd found comfort with the family's maid and a pair of kindly neighbors.

"I was alone a lot growing up," Lloyd recalls. "I learned about the value of an extended family, that they don't have to be your natural mom or dad to take care of you."

After high school, Lloyd attended Rutgers University and the University of Denver, where he received a degree in accounting. He then joined the Marine Corps as a regular officer, touring Southeast Asia during the early days of the Vietnam War. Among drill sergeants, polished boots and regulations, he learned principles that would guide his life.

"In those days, the Corps was much more raw and focused on the behavior of its leaders," he recalls. "You were expected to act a certain way. Eat last. That's one of the principles I learned. Make sure everyone is fed before you touch your food. To this day, I still do that."

Lloyd was enthralled by the exotic places he landed, including Japan. "While other guys were out having fun, I wanted to learn Japanese," he says. "I became fascinated by the similarities of people and the differences in culture. It began to affect me."

After six years, by now a captain, he left the Marines for a teaching job in Southern California and completed his master's degree. He then signed on as administrative dean with World Campus Afloat, where he combined his love of travel with his training as an officer and academic.

New vistas unfolded on every voyage.
On a stop in India, students asked to visit a village of untouchables. Lloyd always told them to give more than they received, and the students went loaded with teddy bears, soap and perfume. When they started distributing the gifts, they were mobbed. When the gifts ran out, the crowds rocked the car and pounded the hood. Lloyd and the students had to flee.

An Indian social worker later explained that giving gifts to some villagers and not others had caused more harm than good. If the travelers really wanted to help, they should find someone who knew the local culture and then help those workers help others.

Lloyd would later apply this lesson to his work with inner-city and handicapped kids in Denver.

On another voyage, when the ship anchored off the coast of Fiji, a student told Lloyd she had only $10 and couldn't afford to go sightseeing. He suggested a bus trip to a village where she might learn about local culture. When she arrived, the villagers invited her into their homes, churches and schools. They held a pig roast in her honor and treated her like a dignitary. And as she left, an 88-year-old village elder offered the student his most valuable possession: a floor mat.

The young woman returned to the ship in tears. "They gave up an entire day to honor me and show me their culture," she said. "They have nothing to share and they shared with me anyway. In the U.S. we would never do that. They had so little and they gave so much. We have so much and we give so little."

Lloyd had seen it a hundred times. After traveling around the world, students would return home with a completely new perspective. It happened to him, too. That's why he has a saying: "Your needs are the same as mine. The only difference is the method and choice of meeting those needs."

When he returned to the United States for good--Lloyd officially joined Lewan & Associates in 1985--he saw growing youth violence, street crime, alienation and racial tension.

"I'm fascinated by the Third World, but I realized that the real battle was here at home," he recalls. "How go the American cities goes American culture. If you study history, the first sign of decline is always in the larger cities. We are developing an underclass, and we don't know how to deal with it."

Lloyd wished he could take an entire shipload of inner-city gang members around the world to give them context, to show them how others adapt and persevere.

"They have to see their alienation from a larger view before you can push them out of it," he says. "They have to sleep in a hut, go to the bathroom on the ground, eat cold rice and squid. It's important for them to see the world by something other than American culture."

And there was something else Lloyd noticed that had changed in this country. Where are the men? he wondered. Where are the fathers, uncles and brothers? Where are the role models teaching boys to become men?

"Every kid needs a survival unit," Lloyd says. "If they don't have one, they'll get one on their own, and I guarantee you won't like it. That's no different with the kids here and the kids living on the streets in Brazil. When you really look at what's wrong, women are pretty faithful when it comes to raising kids. When the family breaks down, it often results in an absence of men. We've got to put a man in the life of every boy. If we can't do that and do it consistently, the violence will not go away."

One afternoon about twelve years ago, Lloyd walked into Hill Middle School, where he had tutored kids in business. The program had ended, and he wanted to do more, so he asked a teacher if she knew of any boys without a male presence in their lives. He didn't ask about age, economic background or ethnicity. He said he wasn't trying to be "a great white savior." He only wanted to help.

The teacher brought him a thirteen-year-old named Al who had grown up in central Denver, the elder of two boys raised by a mother who was deaf. Lloyd told Al he had no children of his own and simply wanted to be involved in the life of a young man, no strings attached. They talked, ate the candy Al had made in home-economics class, and laughed as Lloyd picked the goo from his teeth.

Then they drafted a ten-point agreement. Lloyd would help Al with his homework, Al would help Lloyd lose weight--things like that. They agreed to stay in touch the rest of their lives. At the bottom of the page, they signed their names. Not long afterward, with the eventual blessing of Al's mother, Lloyd made the same commitment with Al's little brother, Levar. They have been close friends ever since.

The young Crip lobbed the fuel pump at a passing car, and Leon Kelly heard a "crack" as the heavy object sailed from the street corner through the window. Kelly thought it was the sound of breaking glass, but a cop later said the "crack" was a woman's teeth, nose and jaw. The Crip just laughed. And at that moment, Kelly saw trouble coming.

This was 1986, five years after Kelly's release from prison. He had become a minister in his father's church and gone back to work for the Salvation Army's Red Shield program, where he and others began to notice young men swaggering through northeast Denver wearing blue bandannas, calling themselves Crips and using violence as calling cards.

Teenagers had always run in packs, Kelly thought. They had always sought belonging through cliques. But these Crips were different. They were more organized, more aggressive, more willing to use whatever it took to protect their 'hood and what later would become profits from crack cocaine sales. Like their cousins in Los Angeles, these homeboys had plenty of attitude, but no remorse.

"Gangs are almost like a religion to these kids," Kelly said at the time. "A religion they can find hope in. It's sad, but that's the way it is."

That year Kelly counted 200 gang members in Denver. Two years later the number had risen to 700. He sounded the alarm, but leaders here were busy trying to build an airport and get the city out of a major economic slump. Denver didn't need bad news. The gang problem, officials concluded, was exaggerated.

"Leon was pretty much a lone voice," remembers Jean Galloway, Channel 9 community-relations vice president.

In 1988, after a youth wearing a red baseball cap was mistaken for a Blood and shot to death, Kelly launched Open Door, a program that would concentrate exclusively on keeping gangs from growing larger and more violent. He patroled neighborhoods in his Blazer, monitored police scanners, comforted families at crime scenes, spoke at schools, visited jails, toured crack dens and coaxed rival gangsters to mediation tables with police and city officials. He was shot at, threatened and once attended a funeral where a young man tried to kill another with a screwdriver. Some days, Kelly wore a bulletproof vest.

"Some of the kids did not appreciate my efforts," Kelly recalls. "Some thought that I was a rival. I had threats made against me. At times the situation became tense."

A year after he founded Open Door, Kelly asked Lloyd Lewan to serve on his board of directors. With Lewan came business savvy, administrative experience and contacts that the struggling organization badly needed.

"Leon would go and ask for help and get turned down again and again," says Mike Anderson, owner of Environmental Materials and a former Open Door advisory-council member. "He would at great risk to himself go out on the street and not get rewarded. It was frustrating for him."

"It was practically impossible to raise money for a man running around in a truck trying to mediate violence," adds Lewan. "It's hard to measure influence, leadership and personal impact. These are intangibles. Respect. Faithfulness. Toughness. He was out there showing kids these things. Encouraging them. But that's hard to measure with standard measurements. And it's hard to fund."

Lewan and other boardmembers, such as Galloway and attorney Keith Tooley, helped Kelly focus his program, polish his presentation skills and solicit contributions from organizations such as AT&T, Coors Brewing Co., Mile High United Way, US West Communications and the Kiwanis Club.

"I was sort of rough back then," Kelly recalls. "They've been able to refine me somewhat. After coming from the morgue and seeing kids all shot up, you're not in the mood to deal with all that stuff. I used to say, 'If you have money to give us, great. If you don't, that's fine, too.' It used to bother me that people waited until someone died before getting involved. But they taught me to use some tact when I tell people where to get off."

They also helped Kelly expand his board of directors and advisory council to include David Michaud, soon to be Denver's police chief; Bob Pence, then regional FBI chief; Norm Early, then Denver district attorney; Rabbi Hillel Goldberg of the Intermountain Jewish News; and Milt Newton of the Denver Nuggets.

"As a farm boy from Idaho, I had a hard time relating to what was going on," says Bryan Thomas, an advertising agency president who joined Open Door's advisory council. "A lot of other people were talking about it, but he was actually doing something. No one was living and breathing it like he was."

But Kelly's message--and his methods--were not always welcome. He was criticized for media grandstanding, for portraying himself as a gang expert without the background or experience, for monopolizing funding sources, for "prostituting" troubled kids to raise money and for using Band-Aid solutions such as a gun-basketball ticket exchange.

"You won't find one bona fide gang member who will mess with him," says one gang-prevention worker, who asks to remain anonymous. "A pep talk just doesn't cut it. What good is it to take the same eight kids to a Nuggets game?

"What are his results? A funeral?" the man continues. "Some of his kids sounded like little tape recorders. He brought them up on the radio, they said all the right things, the next day they'd be out shooting people, then they'd be back at Cherry Creek making another presentation. You can take Reverend Kelly and go on. I have nothing to do with him."

Kelly was accused of favoring Crips over Bloods, favoring Bloods over Crips, withholding information from detectives, coddling hardcore criminals and interfering with police work.

"It was a fine line he had to walk," says Sergeant Dave Dawkins, a former Denver Gang Task Force member. "Gang members didn't completely trust him, and law enforcement didn't completely trust him. It was hard for some officers to understand what this guy from the outside was doing. It was tough for him."

And the rumors swirled: Kelly smoked marijuana. Kelly smoked crack. Kelly used gang members to peddle his own supply. Kelly had fallen back into his old criminal ways.

"Leon took a lot of heat," Lewan recalls. "I have had some very significant people tell me, 'You're crazy to work with that guy. You're hitched to the wrong wagon.' But I always stood tall in his name."

At one point, Kelly's board of directors pulled him aside and asked about the accusations. Kelly volunteered to take a drug test on the spot. He passed.

"If anyone thought we were collaborating with someone who did all they said he did, it would have jeopardized our businesses," says Mike Anderson, also a former Kiwanis Club president. "There was turmoil on my own board. We never had someone who was an ex-con working with people who many considered to be lost causes. It was only because of his character and his message that we supported him. I saw what he did. He tried. He really did."

And for every stain on his reputation, Kelly's supporters find a bright spot.

"Anyone who works with at-risk kids is going to be the subject of rumors," says Dave Deforest-Stalls, who operates the Spot, a youth center. "They're always there. And they change by the minute. When gangs really started, Leon was smack in the middle of it. He walked into situations where no cop, pastor or crisis interventionist could go, and he handled it."

"Leon was pushing people to look at something they didn't want to look at," says Regina Huerter, director of the Denver DA's Juvenile Diversion program. "He was working with kids no one wanted to touch. Some of them committed heinous crimes, and it was a tough sell presenting them as human beings. He stuck his neck out. I have a lot of respect for him. He's been good for us."

"He was out there stomping out as many fires as possible," adds Anthony Sandoval, director of the Salvation Army's Red Shield center. "He saved a lot of lives. You have to see him around young people, the respect they have for him. You can see it. It's there. They know they can come to him if they need him. If someone has that kind of respect, you know they have impact."

"Without Leon Kelly, there would have been a bigger gang problem," Dawkins concludes. "A lot of young eyes were watching what was going on, and he had an impact on whether they got involved."

Jean Galloway, who founded the Metro Gang Coalition, blames turf battles between competing agencies for much of the animosity toward Kelly. "Leon has always been the darling of the media," she says. "He's charismatic. He can walk into a room and just cover it. It's not just his physical presence; it's his personality. He knows of what he speaks. Let's face it. He makes good TV."

Kelly bristles at mentions of his critics.
"Why don't they ever say these things to my face?" he asks. "Why do I always have to hear about some rumor? My past has always been public knowledge. Yeah. I did those things. We're all going to make mistakes. But I've always thought of my past as God's way of preparing me for the work I do now. I know some cops say, 'Once a con, always a con,' but if my work hasn't proved anything by now, it doesn't really matter."

For every youth who fell into gangs or prison, Kelly says he found ten who were hungry for alternatives. Although he's a minister, he says he was careful not to push them toward religion, "not to hit anyone over the head with a spiritual bat."

Nor did he glorify his criminal past. When Judge Gilbert Alexander died this past March, Kelly spoke at his funeral. "If he hadn't done what he did, I'd be dead or spending my life in jail," Kelly says. "I never encourage anyone to go through what I went through. Because they might not come out of it."

And many did not.
In the early days of his program, Kelly taped gang-related obituaries on his office wall. He ran out of space. He now posts a computer list of 351 names. Kelly attended so many funerals they became one blur of sobbing parents, polished caskets and wasted lives.

"There is no other program director out there--or minister--who has buried as many kids as I have," he says. "And so many of the kids I was doing eulogies for, I had known personally, played with, interacted with--and then to stand at the pulpit and find words to comfort families at the same time I was struggling with my own emotions...that's hard."

Even now, as Kelly drives through northeast Denver, he marks houses, intersections and parking lots with memories of those who have died. In particular, he recalls Darryl Givens, who was killed in October 1996 after testifying against a Crip leader, Orlando "Little O" Domeno, who went to prison for shooting a rival gangster. Givens, also a Crip, was shot twice in the head and dumped in the street as a message. Kelly had known Givens since the youth was eleven.

"When Darryl died, I said 'No more,'" Kelly says. "I couldn't take it. I'm not a machine. I'm a human being. After a while, after burying so many babies, it gets to you."

The work and its twelve-hour days, 2 a.m. phone calls and fundraising frustrations also strained Kelly's personal life. Some days his receptionist logged 42 messages. He stood in a food-bank line to feed his family. He canceled wedding-anniversary dinners with his wife. Ultimately, he and his wife divorced--in part, he says, because of the pressures.

"I'm sure Leon became frustrated," Galloway says. "Many times he turned to Lloyd, who would pick him up spiritually and as a friend and say, 'You can't give up. We need you.'"

A few years ago Kelly and his board refocused the program, taking it from the streets to the classroom. Today they try to stop gang recruitment before it starts. Kelly also remarried, had a baby boy and moved to Aurora to "escape the madness."

But he never really does.

When all eyes settle upon him, Lloyd Lewan uncaps his marker and begins.
"The lack of leadership in America is as much a lack of definition as a lack of practice," he says. "In America, people often confuse management skills with leadership. You can be elected to office. You can be appointed manager. But you have to earn the right to be a leader. People follow you freely or not at all."

Pens scribble across legal pads. Brows furrow in concentration.
Lewan continues.
"You can teach specific things for specific functions, but you can't teach leadership. You cannot teach someone to be an entrepreneur, a salesman or a parent. Just as you cannot teach the art of living. The important thing here is mentorship. If you had a good parent, chances are you will be a good parent. Showing life lessons. That is key."

Arms fold. Heads nod.
At 8 a.m. on a Wednesday at the Boulder branch of Lewan & Associates, Lloyd is very much awake. Animated, even. He is in his element: Standing before a crowded room with a complicated topic and a head full of ideas.

In addition to his regular seminars with employees, several times a month Lewan is called upon to discuss leadership in conference rooms and at luncheons in Colorado and around the country. He knows the subject well. He has spent his life studying it.

"Everything great is based upon principles," Lewan continues. "Math. Religion. Leadership. To be a leader, you have to have principles. And to be a leader, you have to act out your principles on a daily basis. When people watch those who behave against principles, they are more likely to act upon principles themselves."

To some, his words might sound hollow. But those who know Lloyd Lewan say they are more than just broad pronouncements. They are concepts he applies to his life.

Lewan is very involved with civic affairs and works with a number of nonprofit groups such as Special Olympics and the Children's Hospital, where he plays Santa Claus each year. He also serves on Governor Roy Romer's Women's Economic Development Council and the Governor's International Trade Office. He has even been a birthing coach for young moms.

"He really takes this work to heart," says Rabbi Hillel Goldberg. "He's not looking for a plaque. He's doing it because he believes in it. And more than a belief, he feels it."

Lewan also believes in trying to foster a spirit of equality and respect at work, where he winces at the title "boss."

"My employees are my colleagues," he says. "A colleague is to me a very strong, professional and respectful relationship. Everyone has something to contribute. Equal disciplines of equal importance. But some of us are asked to lead and be more responsible. I might be more responsible, but I don't ever see myself as a boss."

But Lewan doesn't see himself as an office buddy, either. Another one of his guiding principles is "familiarity breeds contempt." Although he might make a point of recognizing birthdays and the names of spouses, he never takes colleagues out for beers, never shares personal problems.

"People don't want to see your flaws," he says. "They want in a leader a person who can be counted on to know what to do at the right moment. They don't want a drinking buddy."

He takes pains to keep his relationship with his brother from interfering at Lewan & Associates and takes the same care regarding his friendship with Leon Kelly at Open Door board meetings.

"It's all business," he says. "It's all up front. I would never allow our friendship to become inappropriate. I would never allow a personal friendship to outweigh a good decision. If it did, I'd resign from the board or give up the friendship. More likely resign from the board."

In the conference room, Lewan describes the differences between a bureaucrat and entrepreneur, between a manager and leader. The employees lean forward.

"What leaders do is reconcile," he says. "They find areas of common interest. Common denominators. If all you do is dwell on differences, you're not going to get anywhere. I learned that as a traveler. You've got to find common denominators if you're going to accomplish anything."

Heads nod again.
"One common denominator is talent," he continues. "People respect talent. If you really want to lead people and do good, you free talent. You find people from diverse backgrounds and similar talents and get them together. You don't have to be talented yourself, but you do have to free talent. That's the only way to bring people together and get extraordinary results. Talent is the key."

An hour after he began, he caps his marker and takes questions. One young salesman raises his hand. "The biggest mistake people make is believing they work for someone else," he says. "Isn't that close to what you're saying?"

"Yes," Lloyd smiles. "That's right."

The cop slams his palm on the hood of the patrol car and levels a finger at the young man in the street. "I never said that," he says. "I never said that."

"Yes, you did," the teen replies. "You said you'd bust my head open if I didn't leave. You grabbed my shirt and said you'd bust my head."

The cop grinds his teeth, decides not to say what he was going to say and continues writing a ticket.

"Go ahead," the boy says. "Write me a ticket. I ain't paying it. I didn't do nothing."

It's Friday afternoon at Fuller Park, the place where Crips and Bloods clashed all those years ago, where a girl was recently jumped by a group of teens and slashed with a mangled beer can, and where earlier in the day two carloads of teens raced by and exchanged threats and gang signs. Police are in no mood for accusations of harassment.

"You know what you did," another officer says. "Admit it."
"I didn't do nothing," the teenager fumes. "Nothing."
In the middle of it all stands Reverend Leon Kelly, hands on his hips, nodding his head, the mediator again.

"Chill," he tells the boy. "There's no reason to overreact. Just chill."
"I understand," he tells the officers. "Let me talk to them."
A group of four teens had gathered by a bus bench after school but did not board the bus when it arrived. Officers asked them to get on or leave. The boys left but returned a few minutes later. Officers confronted the boys, the boys challenged the officers, and the officers issued tickets. The dispute erupted into the street when two of the boys' parents arrived and began yelling at the officers. The officers began yelling at the parents. The boys began yelling at everyone.

"Why did he have to put his hands on me?" the boy complains. "I said I was going to work. I showed him a bus pass. Why did he have to grab my shirt and say he was going to bust my head?"

"Going to work, huh?" the officer says. "Then why did you run home and get your pass only after we told you to move?"

"All you saw was a black face and came after him," a parent responds. "This is police harassment."

"A black face had nothing to do with it," another officer says. "I'm black."
"This is police harassment," the teen repeats. "That's what this is. Harassment."

Kelly is tired. He was up until 3 a.m. working a mass shooting in Aurora. Kelly knew one of the victims and helped police profile the suspects. Then he spent the morning tracking down the woman's fifth-grade son and visiting her grandmother. On days like this, it seems like old times.

When Open Door shifted its focus away from the streets, Kelly was criticized for taking the easy way out, for turning his back on older youths and working with elementary-school kids who were easier to sell to fundraisers. But what his detractors don't see, Kelly says, are disputes such as these, when he pulls over to the curb even though it would be easier to just drive by.

"If I see anyone getting ready to throw down and get into it, I see what I can do," he says. "I don't turn my back on anyone. But if these guys choose not to listen, that's on them."

Kelly goes over to the patrol car, talks with the officers, asks what the boys are charged with and writes down the court date. Then he walks to the home of one of the teens, where the boy has settled on the couch. He's wearing a gold ring shaped like a dollar sign.

Kelly says he will attend the youth's hearing, speak on his behalf and ask the judge to give him community service at the Open Door program. It won't be like picking up roadside garbage, but the boy will have to work.

"I didn't do nothing," the youth frowns.
"Yes, you did," Kelly says. "Technically, in the eyes of the law, you did. All you had to do was walk away. You know that. You just had to walk away. No one needs to overreact in these situations. That's how these problems start. Now, how old are you?"

"Eighteen! You're grown," Kelly says. "You have to take responsibility for yourself. You're grown now. We learn from these things, youngster. We learn from these things and we move on."

He squeezes the boy's shoulder and turns to leave. As Kelly descends the front steps, the boy's younger sister tugs his arm. "Reverend Kelly. Reverend Kelly," she says. "I know how to spell 'consequences.'"

"All right," he says. "Go ahead."
In Kelly's after-school program, children are required to learn a certain vocabulary.

"Consequences!" she shouts. "C-o-n-s-c-e-q-u...No, wait. Lemme try again!"
"No, wait! Lemme try again."

Kelly climbs into his Blazer and drives away. Behind him, the girl skips along on the sidewalk. "Consequences!" she shouts. "C-o-n-s-e-q-u-e-n-c-e-s. Consequences!"

At the back of Harrington Elementary, in a pale-blue cafeteria smelling of pizza and antiseptic, sit more than fifty first- through fifth-graders, scratching away at arithmetic problems, practicing spelling words, squirming.

"Quiet!" an aide says. "No talking."
"Everyone please sit down."
"Come on, now. Where are your manners?"

This is the after-school program of Open Door, which offers homework help, one-on-one guidance, playground games and other alternatives for kids who might otherwise return to empty homes, Nintendo sets and street corners.

Many of the children in this room come from single-parent households. The majority are black, many are Hispanic, and some straddle the edge of poverty. By the time they hit high school, almost all will feel the pull of street gangs.

This is also where the lives of Leon Kelly and Lloyd Lewan intersect. Here and in similar rooms at Columbine, Manual and West, they try to anchor kids caught in uncertainty and bad influences.

"These are two people doing what they believe," says Goldberg. "Part of it obviously is a shared feeling and emotional philosophy, but a lot of it is just the brass tacks, hardcore figuring out how to raise funds, write grants and get people on board and improve the efficiency of the program. I've never seen either one shrink from a challenge or throw up his hands in despair, which in this business is easy to do."

Attorney Keith Tooley agrees. "Lloyd and Leon have been good for each other," he says. "Leon continually reminds Lloyd of what the street problem is about, and Lloyd helps Leon focus and expand into new areas. Leon always had tremendous energy and tenacity. Lloyd has been a mentor. The guidance Lloyd gave him to focus and be efficient was key."

"To look at them, you wouldn't think they'd talk to each other in a streetcar," says Jane Withers, owner of Hub Cap Annie and a former Open Door boardmember. "They're years apart, from different cultures, from different educational backgrounds and from different religious backgrounds. But they're best of friends."

"You couldn't find two people who are more different," says Anderson. "They're a regular Mutt and Jeff. Or Laurel and Hardy."

"They both have a lot of kid left in them," Withers adds. "You never know which one is going to be the rascal."

Today, as in the early days, Lewan concentrates on the big picture while Kelly works in the trenches. Open Door now operates an annual budget of about $250,000, which covers salaries for five employees, insurance and supplies, with a little left over for trips to Elitch Gardens, "scared-straight" tours of Canon City and visits to corporate entities such as Channel 9 and Lewan & Associates.

"Twenty years ago these people wouldn't even talk to me," Kelly says of the corporate types. "They would have been afraid of me. But once you're willing to make a change and believe in yourself, others will believe in you, too."

As always, the energy in this afternoon's program comes from Kelly, who is practically mobbed when he arrives at school. Kids hug his legs, grab his big hands and whisper in his ear. Kelly pats their heads, caresses their cheeks and slips in a pair of stained and rotted false teeth.

"Mmmm." he mumbles. "Mmmm."
Little girls recoil in horror.
"What's wrong?" he says. "Why is everyone looking at me so funny?"
"Your teeth, Reverend Kelly. Your teeth."

"Oh, my teeth," he mugs. "Well, now. This is what happens when you eat too much candy and start smoking them cigarettes. Do you want teeth like this?"

The girls wrinkle their noses.
"Then give me your candy."
For some of these children, teachers say, Kelly is the only consistent male presence in their lives. As such, he keeps tabs on them as they move on to high school. He also has no problem escorting the more unruly among them to the school boiler room, where he slips off his belt, snaps it a few times and "puts the fear into them." No spanking necessary.

At Columbine, one boy makes the mistake of grabbing a paper from his teacher's hand while Kelly watches. "Don't you snatch your paper from your teacher like that or I'll snatch your face from your head!" Kelly bellows. "Where's your respect? Your teacher is here for you. She's here to teach you. And you're here to learn. She should not have to raise her voice to do that. If I hear about her getting one gray hair on her head because of you, I'm gonna deal with you. Understand?"

The boy understands.
"Now, I can be the nicest guy in the world, but you don't want to try me," Kelly tells this class. "It's not good to see me mean. You know I love you like you were my own babies, but if you're going to be grown-up with me, I'm going to be grown-up with you. If you get your name on the good list, you got something nice coming. But if you get your name on the bad list, you know what that means, too."

Little heads nod.
Kelly bends toward the desk and looks the sulking boy in the eye.
"Got a problem with that?"
"No," the boy says, and apologizes.

The teacher, Jean Cook, says Kelly has helped her detect signs of gang behavior, shuttled parents to teacher conferences and pulled kids aside to talk. More often than not, he or his workers are at school each day, sitting with children in the time-out room, tying shoelaces, checking homework and showing the meaning of Kelly's vocabulary words--words such as discipline, attitude, consequences and penitentiary.

"He's kind of a teddy bear, but don't tell him I said that," Cook says. "But the kids like that side of him. And they like his tough side, too. He always keeps his fingers in a lot of pies. He's a real support here, and I appreciate that. There's always the presence of Open Door."

Lloyd orders a vegetarian omelet, a side of fruit and a cup of coffee, "90 percent water, 10 percent caffeine." Leon orders chicken-fried steak, mashed potatoes, cheese soup and a large glass of fruit punch.

"Look at what he eats," Lloyd chuckles. "All that greasy crap. I can't handle it."

"Aww. Well," Leon grins. "You know."
As usual, they only have an hour, so they arranged--that is, Lloyd arranged--a quick lunch at a Village Inn. Leon wears his T-shirt and shorts and Lloyd wears his suit and tie. Leon's son Geoffrey sits beside them in a high-chair, flapping his arms like a happy little bird. Leon's pager beeps off and on. Lloyd raises his voice above the lunchtime clatter of plates, utensils and carts.

He tells a story. Remember the time when he treated Leon to a weekend at the Stanley Hotel? Afterward, Leon called to say thanks, that it was great, but there was nothing for him to eat. Translation: There was nothing smothered in gravy and served with mashed potatoes for him to eat.

Then there was the day Geoffrey was born at Porter Hospital, which is known for its vegetarian cuisine. Leon couldn't stand it.

"I was excited, because they had beans and rice and things that I like, but Leon wanted me to go out and get chicken," Lloyd says. "I finally had to go to the nurse's station and make him something."

"They had nothing but health food," Leon frowns. "No meat."
Another time, Lloyd invited Leon to be the guest of honor at a black-tie fundraiser where they had an eight-course meal and an array of personal butlers.

"Leon was great," Lloyd laughs. "He looked down at these artichoke things and said, 'How do you eat this?' And he kept looking over his shoulder."

"They had seven butlers walking around," Leon says. "And this guy kept walking behind me. If it would have been anywhere else, I would have been worried."

It goes on like this, with Lloyd doing most of the talking and Leon offering commentary, all the while spooning cheese soup into his son.

"You should see Leon perform weddings," Lloyd teases. "He's hysterical. He'll glance at the bride during the vows and say in that booming voice of his, 'To obey. And I mean obey.' Only he could get away with that stuff. They just love him."

And: "You should have seen him when he had knee surgery. Leon is a terrible patient. He's impatient."

And: "I've been trying to get him to join me during a [Semester at Sea] voyage. He'd love it. I know he would. He's never been outside of the United States."

"I don't know about that," Leon grins. "Once you get out there with all that water, it makes that huge ship look like a pebble. Anything's possible out there with all that water. We're talking about the Titanic."

The waitress interrupts and asks the men if they would like dessert. Lloyd shakes his head "No" and Leon nods his head "Yes."

Leon bends toward his son.
"Don't tell your momma," he says. "This is a special day. A special day. She'll have you eating all those vegetables and things. But you want some of that cheesecake, don't you?"

Geoffrey flaps his arms.
"Yeah. That's right."
Few people get to see this side of Leon, Lloyd says. Big, powerful, gang-fighter Leon Kelly, doting over a toddler.

"After burying so many people, it puts things in perspective," Leon says. "After dealing with all the madness, when you come home and your baby smiles at you, you get all excited. It's cool."

As Leon devours his dessert, Lloyd takes the opportunity to analyze their friendship. Both are independent. Both are spiritual. Both respect women. Both are men's men. Both lead by example. And both are committed to sharing life lessons with the kids who most need guidance, particularly boys without men in their lives.

But most of the time, they just hang out. Lloyd was the best man at Leon's wedding. He is Geoffrey's godfather. Leon gives Lloyd advice on women and helps fix his Jeep. They scour garage sales on weekends, ride motorcycles, spend hours just talking.

"Leon, with what he's been through, keeps me in perspective," Lloyd says. "If he can go through what he's gone through and still be a great guy, anyone can. He's an inspiration. Really. I've never seen him gossip. I've never seen him complain. And he has the biggest heart in the world. I don't say this about many men, but I would follow Leon Kelly. I respect him enough to do that."

Says Leon: "I don't see him as a white guy. I see him as a guy who happens to be white who is my friend. We share a common philosophy about life. His perseverance, his consistency, his commitment, his willingness to be part of change, his world experience and his ability to do what he sets out to do...I look at him as an older brother."

Leon's pager sounds again.
"Don't you have to get going?" Lloyd asks. "You've got that thing."
"Yeah, that's right."
"You don't want to be late."
"No. I don't want to be late."

Leon scoops up Geoffrey, puts him in the stroller and gulps down the fruit punch. The men stand, embrace with a few hearty thumps, a "Love you man," "Love you, too," and then Leon leaves.

Lloyd watches him go.
"I've been thinking a lot about this," he says. "Most people think we're just this strange pair. But we really are a great deal alike. Leon and I don't dwell on our differences. He takes me to his world and I take him to mine. I am completely comfortable around him. There is no reason why people who have differences can't come together under a common commitment. And the fact that we are friends says so much more about our culture than any of this politically correct nonsense. I love the guy. I really do. He'll do the eulogy at my funeral. I have no doubt about it. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

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